How to (NOT) Play the Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez has been considered one of the best openings to play as White due to its solidity and relative simplicity.  The opening has been around for many centuries, and some of the basic concepts and ideas in the opening are known to many.  Still, it’s not a two-result game every time White plays it.  Even with decent play from White, there have been many instances where very accurate play by Black has led to mind-blowing wins.

There was such a game quite recently.  The Candidates tournament is currently in progress in Berlin, where eight of the top players compete in a double round robin for a chance to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen to a match at the end of this year.  In the third round, there was a particularly crazy game between Aronian and Kramnik.  Let’s take a look:

Aronian – Kramnik, Berlin Candidates, 2018

That could definitely be one of the best performances by Black in the Ruy Lopez, if not the immaculate performance.  Granted, it did stem from some clever opening preparation, but with the knowledge that Kramnik didn’t go far into that specific line before going out of prep, it was a brilliant performance.  If there’s one thing we could take away from this game, it’s to never underestimate Black’s attacking prospects on the kingside if given the opportunity.   Kramnik didn’t hesitate to start attacking as early as move 7, and he never had to castle as he was always pushing with the initiative.

This also offers another instructive lesson – one cannot play opening moves in any random order, as playing certain moves earlier or later can change the dynamic of the position, allowing certain possibilities to come up that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.  For example, in this game, if Aronian had delayed castling and playing h3 in favor of Nbd2, Nc4, Qe2, etc, he wouldn’t have had to deal with a kingside attack from Kramnik.  It is little things like this that make chess the great game that it is.

And with that, I’ll see you next time!

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